Advances in additive manufacturing and 3D printing are occurring so rapidly that there is now a daily newsletter on 3D printing for which I recently subscribed. Design News, IndustryWeek, Manufacturing.net, and many other publications are also publishing frequent articles on additive manufacturing, and most trade shows are now scheduling one or more sessions related to the topic of additive manufacturing/3D printing.
The latest e-newsletter from Manufacturing.net had the headline, "Liquid Printer Turns 3D Manufacturing Upside Down" and describes the new 3D printer introduced by Carbon3D at the TED conference on March 16. The new "3D printer can print up to 100 times faster than conventional additive manufacturing thanks to its ability to 'grow' materials upward from a pool of liquid," using "their Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology, which builds material upward in a continuous stream." The Carbon3D printer uses UV light to trigger "polymerization, the creation of three-dimensional polymers, while oxygen inhibits the reaction" and "can be used with a broad range of polymeric materials."
Dr. Joseph DeSimone, the CEO and co-founder of Carbon3D, said “Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial quality parts.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Zach Simkin, co-president of Senvol LLC, a company that does analytics exclusively for the 3D printing industry, letting me know that they recently launched a tool, the Senvol Database, which is the first and only searchable database for industrial 3D printing machines and materials. Simkin said, "Users are able to search the database by over 30 fields, such as machine build size, material type, and material tensile strength. The database is online and free to access. The database already has thousands of regular users since launch, many of whom are engineers across a variety of verticals."
A few days later, I interviewed Annie Wang, Senvol’s other co-president, and she said, "Additive manufacturing is never going to replace 100% of subtractive manufacturing." She emailed me the Video link to their presentation from the RAPID Conference last year ─ "Determining Cost-Effectiveness of Additive Manufacturing." She also emailed me the write-up from the Wohlers report ("Cost-Benefit Analyses for Final Production Parts"), which gives an overview of two case studies that they did for GE and Johnson Controls. She said, "We used the Senvol Algorithm to determine whether or not it's cost-effective to switch from conventional manufacturing to additive manufacturing."
While the results of the analysis are proprietary, Wang and Simkin provide guidelines in the introduction of their study, writing, "However, just because a part can be produced using AM does not mean that it should be. Prior to implementing the technology, it is essential to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Generally speaking, it is often stated that AM is economically suitable for parts that have the following features: low volume, complex, and small. Although this can be true, it is not sufficient to only consider features of the part. Rather, when trying to determine whether a particular part can be cost-effectively produced using AM, it is critical to analyze the entire supply chain."
In the report, they provide "… the seven supply chain scenarios that tend to lend themselves well to AM. If a part falls into one or more of these scenarios, then that part may be cost-effective to produce via AM. If a part does not fall into any of these scenarios, then the part almost certainly will not be cost-effective for AM given the current AM technology." They are:
|Expensive to Manufacture||Do you have parts that are high cost because they have complex geometries, high fixed costs (e.g. tooling), or are produced in low volumes? AM may be more cost-efficient.|
|Long Lead-Times||Does it take too long to obtain certain parts? Are your downtime costs extremely high? Do you want to increase speed-to-market? Through AM, you can often get parts more quickly.|
|High Inventory Costs||Do you overstock or understock? Do you struggle with long-tail or obsolete parts? AM can allow for on-demand production, thus reducing the need for inventory.|
|Sole-Sourced from Suppliers||Are any of your critical parts sole-sourced? This poses a supply chain risk. By qualifying a part for AM, you will no longer be completely reliant on your current supplier.|
|Remote Locations||Do you operate in remote locations where it is difficult, time consuming, or expensive to ship parts to? AM may allow you to manufacture certain parts on-site.|
|High Import / Export Costs||Do you pay substantial import/export costs on parts simply because of the location of your business unit and/or your supplier? On-site production via AM can eliminate these costs.|
|Improved Functionality||AM can enable a part to be redesigned such that its performance is improved beyond what was previously possible.
© Senvol LLC
Just like a Total Cost of Ownership analysis is beneficial to determine whether or not to offshore the manufacturing of a particular part or product or return manufacturing to America from being manufactured offshore, Simkin and Wang state, "For parts that fall into one or more of the above scenarios, a detailed, quantitative cost-benefit analysis is warranted. To conduct such analyses, an algorithm, courtesy of Senvol, was used to determine what types of parts can be more cost-effectively manufactured using AM versus the status quo. The algorithm analyzes an array of variables that span the entire product life cycle."
I told Wang that 3D printing is greatly accelerating the development of new products by the inventors that I advise as part of the San Diego Inventors Forum, but there are many times that a part can be made by 3D printing that can't be replicated in a production process. For example, you can produce "chunky" plastic parts using 3D printing that cannot be made in the production process of injection molding. The use of 3D printing is enabling inventors to have a sample part to show/demonstrate in person or by means of a video to secure potential investors, but the inventor needs to do a careful analysis of the best manufacturing process to use for production, depending on where it will be used (home, office, or outdoors), product certifications required, and projected life cycle volumes, among other considerations. A 3D printed sample can be the essential ingredient of a video to do a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe.
I told her that I give a presentation each year at our meetings on "How to select the right manufacturing process and sourcing location for your product," which incorporates the Reshoring Initiative's Total Cost of Ownership analysis. We agreed that companies could benefit from doing a cost-benefit analysis of comparing conventional manufacturing to additive manufacture as well as doing the Reshoring Initiative's Total Cost of Ownership analysis when making the decision to manufacture in the U. S. vs. offshore.